OPINION – Hurrah for the madding crowd: How crowdfunding is fueling the flames of fandom

It’s like the old Funko strapline says: Everybody’s a fan of something. It’s no secret that adult fandom has become an increasingly important market to the toy industry and pop culture scene in general, but – with limited shelf space among retailers – just how can brands and manufacturers cater to it all? Here, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes tells us why he’s such a big fan of the crowdfunding scene

Whether it’s football, film or TV, we are all fans of something. Fandom is a bond that ties people together. Fans are at the heart of licensing. Fans are the consumers who buy into licensed products or have licensed products bought for them.

Traditionally, it was difficult to have a direct relationship with fans. In the age of social media it has become easier to communicate with fans and build a rapport with them. Rights owners have got better at dialoguing with fans and have recognised that having a direct relationship with them is a valuable asset.

That said it is still quite challenging to know what fans want. Sometimes as an industry, we haven’t always tried that hard to find out. Licensing can be an industry that lives in the moment. Often reacting to ‘what’s hot’ and delivering a standard range of products.

Moving forward it would be good to see more products developed that reflect IP more distinctively and reflect fan interest.

It’s a good time to talk to fans more frequently and with a higher level of engagement. Crowdfunding campaigns are a great way of doing this.

In licensing, you traditionally need a licensee and a retailer to support your brand and back your idea. Retailers have finite space and manufacturers are not able to invest in all new ideas they see. Of course online selling and opportunities like print on demand have changed this up, but there are still gatekeepers to get past to get products to fans.

But there is an increasingly viable alternative, and it’s crowdfunding.

This is, of course, not a new thing and is a path that has been trod by IP owners and licensees already. Aardman Animations used Kickstarter to help finance a new Morph animation series back in 2013, while many a boardgame has been launched following on crowdfunding campaigns. Meanwhile, Unbound offers a route to market for authors with a highly engaging crowdfunding platform for new books. It’s true that a number of their books wouldn’t have been published otherwise, but have been commercially successful as they found their audience.

It’s a good time to talk to fans more frequently and with a higher level of engagement. Crowdfunding campaigns are a great way of doing this. Crucially they are also a proven way of bringing good creative ideas alive. So often these ideas would have stayed on the drawing board.

The Vine Lab has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign around Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave. The team is crowdfunding a high spec Collector’s Model that is being launched to help celebrate the film’s 25th Anniversary. In the real world it would have been difficult to find a retail home for it. Fans would have missed out on a super product.

As more and more, consumers are looking for original products and experiences, crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly  viable way of tapping into their passion and getting closer to fans. Used carefully and responsibly crowdfunding should be a feature in a contemporary licensing programme. It’s also a fabulous way of supporting the creative community.

We are all fans of something, and I’m a fan of crowdfunding.

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